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by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Genes May Help Determine Your Pain Threshold

Study could explain why some people are more stoic than others, researchers say
SUNDAY, April 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- It's been a mystery why some people can withstand pain better than others. Now a new study suggests that genetics may play a role in whether your pain tolerance is low or high.
Researchers pinpointed four genes that could help explain why perceptions of pain differ from person to person.
"Our study is quite significant because it provides an objective way to understand pain and why different individuals have different pain tolerance levels," study author Dr. Tobore Onojjighofia, with Proove Biosciences and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in an academy news release.
"Identifying whether a person has these four genes could help doctors better understand a patient's perception of pain," Onojjighofia explained. The research was supported by Proove Biosciences.
The study involved more than 2,700 people taking prescription painkillers, called opioids (commonly known as narcotics), for chronic pain. The participants were asked to rate their pain on a scale from zero to 10. After excluding those who reported their pain as zero, the researchers divided the remaining patients into three groups depending on their pain score.
Of all the participants, 9 percent were classified as having low pain perception. Meanwhile 46 percent of the patients were considered to have moderate pain. Finally, 45 percent of the participants were rated as having high pain perception.
The participants were also evaluated for the following genes: COMT, DRD2, DRD1 and OPRK1.
The DRD1 gene was more common among those with low pain perception, the study revealed. The researchers found this gene variant was 33 percent more prevalent in the low-pain group than in the high-pain group.
For those with moderate pain, the COMT and OPRK genes were seen more. COMT was 25 percent more common in those with moderate pain than those with high pain perception. OPRK was 19 percent more prevalent, the investigators found.
Meanwhile, the DRD2 gene variant was 25 percent more common among those with a high pain perception than those with moderate pain.
"Chronic pain can affect every other part of life," Onojjighofia said. "Finding genes that maybe play a role in pain perception could provide a target for developing new therapies and help physicians better understand their patients' perceptions of pain."
The study findings, released Sunday, are scheduled for presentation on April 30 at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in Philadelphia. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
According to its website, California-based Proove provides doctors with "information to improve the selection, dosing, and evaluation of medications. The company offers proprietary laboratory testing reimbursed by insurance carriers."
More information
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about pain (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/pain.html ).
SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, April 20, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

How to Keep Your Fitness Goals on Track

Start with a workout plan that's a good fit for you, expert says
SUNDAY, April 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.
"The point isn't to become a marathoner in one exercise session or return to your high school athletic glory days all at once," Dr. Jamy Ard, co-director of the Weight Management Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in a center news release.
"The point is to get over the inertia that has taken root in your self-motivation world and remind yourself of why you value being active," he explained.
You'll improve your chances of success if you have a workout program that's a good fit for you, Ard said.
"Physical activity not only needs to be simple and structured enough to meet your lifestyle demands, but also enjoyable enough for you to look forward to it," he added.
Ard offered some advice about how to start and maintain an exercise regimen. It begins with finding something you enjoy, whether it's going to the gym, starting a walking program or joining a running group.
You need to start slowly and have a simple plan. That could be a short stroll around the block or a 10-minute walk at work. Your plan should be so easy to do that it will be almost impossible for you to find excuses not to do it.
Keep challenging yourself by adding a little more to your fitness routine on a regular basis. If you're more active today than yesterday, you're moving in the right direction, Ard said.
"Seeing positive change can be extremely reinforcing, no matter how small. And maybe that will be enough to get you springing back sooner rather than later," he said.
More information
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/phy_act.htm ).
SOURCE: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, news release, April 14, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Spring Cleaning Safety Tips

How to avoid accidental poisonings from chemicals, medications
SATURDAY, April 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- While doing their spring cleaning, families will use a wide range of products that can cause accidental poisonings, an expert says.
But taking appropriate precautions will reduce the risk of danger, said Earl Siegel, managing director of the drug and poison information center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.
"It is vital that people arm themselves with basic information on poison prevention in the home, such as keeping chemicals out of the reach of children and carefully reading the labels and dosages on all products," he said in a hospital news release.
Tips for preventing poisonings during spring cleaning are offered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Keep cleaning products in their original bottles or containers. Don't store them in cups, bottles or jars. Never sniff containers to determine what's inside.
Keep cleaning products locked up and out of sight and reach of children.
Read the label before you use a cleaning product. And never mix products together; doing so could create a dangerous gas.
Open windows and turn on fans when using cleaners or other chemicals. Also, wear protective clothing -- long sleeves, long pants, socks, shoes and gloves -- if you're spraying pesticides or other chemicals. Stay away from newly sprayed areas for at least an hour, or until the spray has dried.
If you clean out your medicine cabinet, keep all medicines out of the sight and reach of children while you're working.
If a poisoning occurs, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
More information
The U.S. National Safety Council has more about poisoning prevention (http://www.nsc.org/safety_home/Resources/Pages/Poisoning.aspx ).
SOURCE: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, news release, April 17, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Ragwitek Approved for Adult Ragweed Allergy

Tablet placed under the tongue
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Ragwitek has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat allergy to short ragweed among adults aged 18 to 65.
The once-daily tablet contains an extract from short ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) pollen, the agency said in a news release. Treatment should begin 12 weeks before the start of ragweed season -- which in the United States includes late summer and early fall -- and continue through the season.
The product is placed under the tongue, where it rapidly dissolves. The first dose should be given by a doctor, who can monitor the user for any adverse reaction, the FDA said. Subsequent doses can be taken at home.
Ragwitek's safety and effectiveness were evaluated in clinical studies involving some 1,700 adults. The most common side effects included throat irritation and itching of the mouth and ears.
The product's label will include a boxed warning that it could cause a life-threatening reaction among people who are severely allergic to the pollen of short ragweed, one of the most common seasonal allergens.
Ragwitek is produced for New Jersey-based Merck and Co. by Catalent Pharma Solutions, based in the United Kingdom.
More information
Visit the FDA to learn more about this approval (http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm393820.htm ).
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Restaurants in Poor Areas Push Unhealthy Foods, Study Finds

Making good meal choices is harder, researcher says
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Restaurants near public housing developments tend to offer unhealthy meals, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed menus from 61 fast-food and 72 table-service restaurants within a half mile of 13 housing developments and four residential neighborhoods in the Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., areas.
The housing developments and residential neighborhoods had similar numbers of restaurants, the majority of them fast-food outlets in both types of communities. Residents of the housing developments were predominately black and had low incomes.
"There has been a lot of research looking at the 'food desert' concept in which healthy foods are less available or accessible in lower-income neighborhoods," study co-author Katie Heinrich, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., said in a university news release. "In this study we found that both neighborhoods had equal access to foods, but that the quality of those available to public housing was much lower."
About three-quarters of the entrees offered at restaurants near housing developments were high in calories and fat and low in whole grains, vegetables and fruits, according to the study in a recent issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.
"There is the thought that people are unhealthy because they make poor choices, and that can certainly be true. But there is a huge influence from the environment that people are in that goes beyond individual responsibility," Heinrich said.
"Here we saw that 75 percent of the time it's going to be very easy to pick an unhealthy entree from a menu because those unhealthy entrees make up the majority of a menu," she said.
The researchers also found that table-service restaurants offered more healthy entrees than fast-food restaurants. And fast-food restaurants were more likely to promote super-sized meal items, and to target youngsters by having mascots and offering toys with food items.
The study findings are "important because if you go to a restaurant that has a few healthy choices and a lot of unhealthy choices, the chance of picking an unhealthy entree increases significantly," Heinrich said.
Fast-food outlets outnumber table-service restaurants near public housing developments, and this imbalance can lead people with tight budgets to choose cheaper, unhealthy foods, Heinrich explained.
"I think that there is a delicate balance between trying to make healthy food choices and having your environment facilitate healthy choices," she said. "But if we don't set up environments where the majority of choices can potentially be healthy, it becomes much more likely that people are going to make unhealthy choices."
More information
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers tips for eating at restaurants (http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=5671 ).
SOURCE: Kansas State University, news release, April 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Certain Sedatives Tied to Breathing Problems in Older COPD Patients

Study author urges caution for doctors prescribing benzodiazepines to this group
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A group of widely used sedatives increases the risk of serious breathing problems in older people with the lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a new study says.
Benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan) or alprazolam (Xanax) are commonly prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety, the study author noted.
For the study, researcher Dr. Nicholas Vozoris examined the medical records of older adults with COPD in the Canadian province of Ontario. Those who had been newly prescribed a benzodiazepine had a 45 percent increased risk of experiencing breathing problems that required outpatient treatment.
These patients also had a 92 percent greater risk of needing to go to the emergency room for treatment of pneumonia or COPD, and were more likely to be hospitalized for breathing problems, according to the study published online April 17 in the European Respiratory Journal.
The findings were consistent even after the severity of patients' COPD was taken into account, said Vozoris, a respirologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
"Physicians, when prescribing these pills, need to be careful, use caution and monitor the patients for respiratory side effects," Vozoris said in a hospital news release. "Patients also need to watch for respiratory-related symptoms."
Previous research by Vozoris found that 30 percent of older Canadians with COPD are prescribed benzodiazepines.
While the study found an association between sedative prescriptions and higher risk of breathing problems in older adults with COPD, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
More information
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about COPD (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/ ).
SOURCE: St. Michael's Hospital, news release, April 17, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Nurses' Experience Key to Better Patient Care, Study Says

Efficient teamwork reduces hospital stays
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Patients may get the best care when treated in hospital units staffed by highly experienced nurses, a new study shows.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 900,000 patients admitted over four years to U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals and found that for each one-year increase in the average tenure of registered nurses in a hospital unit, patients spent 1.3 percent less time in the hospital.
A shorter hospital stay indicates that a patient received better care, and is also more cost-effective, according to the researchers from Columbia University in New York City.
They also found that patients' length of stay increased when a team of RNs (registered nurses) had to do without an experienced member or had a new member assigned to them.
The study appears in the current issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.
"Reducing length of stay is the holy grail of hospital management because it means patients are getting higher quality, more cost-effective care," senior study author Patricia Stone, a professor of health policy at Columbia's School of Nursing, said in a university news release.
"When the same team of nurses works together over the years, the nurses develop a rhythm and routines that lead to more efficient care," Stone said. "Hospitals need to keep this in mind when making staffing decisions -- disrupting the balance of a team can make quality go down and costs go up."
The findings show that hospital chief executives should consider policies to retain the most experienced nurses and create a work environment that encourages nurses to remain in their current units, study co-author Ann Bartel, a professor of workforce transformation at Columbia Business School, said in the news release.
More information
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a guide to health care quality (http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/index.html ).
SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, April 14, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Appetite, Taste Changes Reported After Weight-Loss Surgery

Sense of smell also altered for some patients in British study
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- After weight-loss surgery, many patients report changes in appetite, taste and smell, a new study says.
One positive aspect of these changes is that they may lead patients to lose even more weight, the researchers suggested.
The study included 103 British patients who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, in which the stomach is made smaller and the small intestines is shortened. Of those, 97 percent said their appetite changed after the surgery, and 42 percent said their sense of smell changed.
Taste changes occurred in 73 percent of the patients, especially when it came to sweet and sour tastes, the researchers found. They especially noted changes in the taste of chicken, beef, pork, roast meat, lamb, sausages, fish, fast food, chocolate, greasy food, pasta and rice.
Nearly three-quarters of patients said they developed a dislike of certain foods, especially meat products. One-third avoided chicken, minced beef, beef steak, lamb, sausages, bacon or ham.
About 12 percent had an aversion to starches such as rice, pasta, bread and pastry and for dairy products such as cream, cheese, ice cream and eggs, 4 percent to vegetables, 3 percent to fruit and 1 percent to canned fish.
The researchers also found that patients with a newly developed distaste for certain foods lost an average of nearly 18 pounds more after their surgery than those whose taste wasn't affected, according to the study recently published online in the journal Obesity Surgery.
Although the study found an association between weight-loss surgery and sensory changes, it did not establish cause-and-effect.
The taste and smell changes experienced by many patients after weight-loss surgery may be due to a combination of gut hormone and central nervous system effects, according to lead author Lisa Graham, of the Leicester Royal Infirmary.
She noted that patients considering weight-loss surgery are typically told about the possible loss of taste and smell.
More information
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about weight-loss surgery (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/weightlosssurgery.html ).
SOURCE: Obesity Surgery, news release, April 16, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Extroverts Happier Regardless of Culture, Study Finds

Researchers compared college students in five nations
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Being outgoing makes you happier no matter where you live, a new international study says.
Researchers looked at mood and behavior among college students in the United States, China, Japan, the Philippines and Venezuela. Overall, those who felt or acted more extroverted in daily situations were happier.
The investigators also found that the students' behavior was more upbeat when they felt free to be themselves, according to the study in the Journal of Research in Personality.
"We are not the first to show that being more extroverted in daily behavior can lead to more positive moods. However, we are probably the first to extend this finding to a variety of cultures," study author Timothy Church, a professor of counseling psychology and associate dean of research in the College of Education at Washington State University, said in a university news release.
Previous studies found that introverts in the United States were happier when they did outgoing things such as giving an old friend a call or smiling at a passerby. According to the news release, most of this type of research has been conducted in Western nations that place a high value on independence and individualism.
In this study, Church wanted to investigate the link between extroversion and happiness in more community-based cultures in Asia and South America. The findings show that many cultures share similar major personality traits and that being outgoing may be one way to increase happiness in all of them, researchers say.
"Cross-cultural psychologists like to talk about psychic unity," Church said. "Despite all of our cultural differences, the way personality is organized seems to be pretty comparable across cultural groups. There is evidence to show that 40 to 50 percent of the variation in personality traits has a genetic basis."
More information
Mental Health America offers tips on how to live your life well (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/live-your-life-well ).
SOURCE: Washington State University, news release, April 15, 2014
by Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Happy Couples Nestle Together at Night, Survey Finds

Respondents were unhappier with relationship as sleeping distance grew
FRIDAY, April 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Your sleeping position with your significant other offers clues about the quality of your relationship, according to a new study.
Researchers asked more than 1,000 people about their preferred position at night and to rate their relationship quality.
"One of the most important differences involved touching," study author Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K., said in a university news release. Ninety-four percent of couples who spent the night in contact with one another were happy with their relationship, compared to just 68 percent of those who didn't touch, he said.
Forty-two percent of couples said they slept back to back, 31 percent slept facing the same direction, and 4 percent slept facing each other.
Twelve percent of couples spent the night less than one inch apart while 2 percent slept more than 30 inches apart.
The farther apart couples slept, the less likely they were to be happy. While 86 percent of those who slept less than an inch apart were happy with their relationship, the same was true for only 66 percent of those who slept more than 30 inches apart.
The study also found that extroverts were more likely to spend the night close to their partners, and that creative people tended to sleep on their left side.
"The results allow people to gain an insight into someone's personality and relationship by simply asking them about their favorite sleeping position," Wiseman said.
More information
The American Psychological Association outlines how to keep your relationship happy (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/healthy-relationships.aspx ).
SOURCE: University of Hertfordshire, news release, April 15, 2014

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